Tag Archives: loudspeakers

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Shortening wire length

In yesterday’s post, we posed the question of what might happen if we were to lower or even eliminate the impedance inherent in the AC power wires feeding our home.

The answer is simple. Dramatically better sound.

Something we all want!

But, how best to eliminate or significantly lower the impedance of hundreds (often thousands) of feet of connecting power cables shared by our neighbors?

Traditionally, lowering impedance inherent in wire can be handled in two ways: shortening its length and/or increasing its thickness.

Increasing wire thickness from the standard of 14 gauge copper, which is about 0.06″ thick, to something ridiculously heavier like 0 gauge wire, which is nearly ten times the thickness (times 3 conductors), would help but wouldn’t solve it. Only thickening and shortening the wire to mere feet would get the total impedance where we would want it, to perhaps 0.01Ω or lower.

The problems with taking these steps would be one of practicality (or the lack thereof). Let’s start with thickening the wire. 3-conductor 0 gauge wire is about 1.5″ thick and weighs in at about 1.5 lbs per foot. That’s going to be a bear to install in the walls (never mind the impracticality of typing that wire into an AC receptacle). But, let’s say we managed all that copper. We still need to shorten it to mere feet. To do that we’d have to move our home next to a noisy, stinky, coal-fired power generating station.

We might get some spousal pushback.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. A power amplifier.

Let’s back up a moment.

If you want to power a pair of loudspeakers you won’t get very far connecting the output of your preamplifier to them. Preamps can’t drive speakers because their output impedance is too high.

To lower a preamplifiers output impedance you need to add energy, something a power amplifier is very good at.

Power amplifiers have high input impedance and low output impedance.

Does this sound like something that might interest us in our quest to reduce the impedance of the power line from high to low?

Methinks, maybe.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Amateur Audiophiles

One of the reasons I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide was to help fix the biggest problem in high-end audio systems. The one most of us take for granted, yet never master.

Setup.

Sure, we all know the basics: approximately where to place the loudspeakers, how to connect the kit, how to tame a lousy room.

But basics are not mastery in the same way learning how to boil water doesn’t make you a culinary expert.

With over 10,000 copies in circulation, I am happy to report that more systems sound better than ever before.

But, the Guide doesn’t work for everyone because not everyone gets the same benefits from simply reading a book.

That’s where someone like David Snyder can help. David, who refers to himself as an amateur audiophile (aren’t most of us?), has taken apart every aspect of The Audiophile’s Guide and methodically laid it out in much easier to understand language than I was able to.

He’s published this work in a 5-part series called Unlocking Great Sound and to be honest, he’s done a far better job than I.

If you’re interested, you can go here and begin with part 1.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Direction matters

Direction matters in at least diodes, capacitors, one-way streets, and game plans, but it is to the last on this list we write about today.

Being the impatient type I fully understand the temptation to jump into the deep end of a problem without a plan, but, as someone that’s been on the planet for more time than many, I also appreciate the value of a good game plan.

For example, when it comes time to choosing that new pair of loudspeakers or a new set of electronics, how many of us have clear objectives in mind?

I suspect most of our goals are more emotional than logical. I know in my case lust often outweighs reason.

If I were to offer any advice I think it might break down to two very simple questions:

  1. What is lacking in what I have?
  2. What am I hoping the outcome of my new purchase will be?

It might sound super simplistic but you’d be surprised how often these two questions go unanswered or, worse, unasked.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I use a Luxman L590AXII that is rated at around 55 watts per channel of Class A amplification into my Daedalus Audio Ulysses loudspeakers and it’s the best sounding audio amplifier I’ve ever owned and its not the first Class A amplifier I’ve owned. I’ve owned and used Parasound JC-1’s, Pass 100.5’s and a Plinius Class A amp. All three are great sounding amps, but while they are all high biased Class A amps, none sounds as good as the Luxman. It sounds powerful, tonally rich and very transparent. It’s a great match with my speakers.

Paul make an oopsie!!

Class dismissed

When I was attending school there were no sweeter words than the headline of today’s post. Free at last.

Let me start today’s topic with an apology. Because I disliked school so much my math skills suck. Badly. I tend to get confused around percentages especially when they work in reverse.

Armed with the correct info, let’s review: if a 100-watt amplifier is 50% efficient, it draws 200 watts from the wall and delivers 100 watts to the load. Half of its energy is converted to heat. (I had mistakenly said 50 watts would be converted to heat). Thanks to our ever-helpful eagle-eyed community for correcting me.

According to Wikipedia, the classes of amplifiers are related to the time period that the active amplifier device is passing current, expressed as a fraction of the period of a signal waveform applied to the input. A class A amplifier is conducting through all the period of the signal; Class B only for one-half the input period, class C for much less than half the input period. A Class D amplifier operates its output device in a switching manner; the fraction of the time that the device is conducting is adjusted so a pulse width modulation output is obtained from the stage.

What’s a valuable takeaway from the above droll few sentences is this: a Class B amplifier only draws power from the AC wall socket when a signal is present, where a Class A amplifier is drawing wall power “through all the period of the signal”, including the zero-crossing point where, technically, there is no signal.

Keep that thought in your head as tomorrow we’ll come back to that.

There is a hybrid amplifier we’re all familiar with. This topology shares traits from both Class A and Class B and is appropriately named, Class A/B.

In a Class A/B amp when there is no signal there are still a few watts of power being drawn from the wall. This is because the A part of the Class A/B means the amp is always on—at least a little. This always-on time is called bias, a technique of applying just enough always-on power that we’re not relying upon the application of an audio signal to get things started (eliminating a type of distortion known as crossover notch). The amount of that always-on bias varies from amp design to design. In some amps, like the BHK series, it’s fairly high, which generates a fair amount of constant heat regardless of whether or not a signal is present. In other designs, there’s just enough always-on bias to keep the amp warm to the touch.

The only time the heat sinks of a class A/B amp get good and toasty is when it’s been working out delivering loud music to hungry speakers. That’s the opposite of what happens with a Class A amplifier.

Tomorrow, the strange world of pure Class A.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Fundamentals first

I am often asked to weigh in on upcoming decisions for stereo system upgrades: Bi-wire or bi-amp, what to do with the room, which amps, loudspeakers, power products?

Where to get the biggest bang for the buck.

My answers are always conditional. I ask first what it is the person’s hoping to achieve, secondly, what’s the state of affairs for the system as it currently stands, and last is budget.

The first part of the question is answered pretty much the same: Better soundstage, more accurate tonal balance, increased foot tapping.

The range of answers I get to the second part of my two-part question is always a delight for it is here where we get to the core of what needs to be addressed.

And often what needs to change is boring. Boring because more often than not we’ve not spent enough time nailing down fundamentals.

It’s certainly much easier to add a quick fix than it is to address the basics. But it’s the basics that determine the final outcome that tweaks and upgrades can only hope to enhance.

I nearly always recommend a hard look at first the loudspeakers, second the amplification chain, and last (but certainly not least) the AC power chain.

Then, if we’re open to some suggestions to shoring up our fundamentals, we can discuss budget. Maybe it’s worth investing everything into those dream speakers while tolerating a compromised amplification and power chain until finances recover. Or, perhaps we’re lucky enough to identify that one weak link in an otherwise robust chain.

Whatever the case it’s always helpful to step back and think of what we have as a system rather than a collection of bits and bobs.

Fundamentals first.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Working together

I am pretty certain few rooms support perfect bass. It’s not that rooms are particularly biased against low frequencies, the problem is those pesky long wavelengths.

Consider that a 20Hz wave is 51 feet in length. A 30Hz note is 38 feet long and even a 60Hz note is just under 10 feet in length.

These long wavelengths mean they don’t fit into most rooms, so, with nowhere to go they bunch up like the bellows of an accordion. This squeezing of sound creates hot spots and dead spots within the room.

What to do?

The easiest is to find where in the room you can sit that has the smoothest response for the greatest number of frequencies. That, coupled with moving your loudspeakers without mucking everything else up (like imaging and tonal balance), is the best way to make the most out of a tough situation.

Indeed, there are other means like adding digital correction and, if your bass is generated out of a subwoofer or separate woofer enclosure that can both be moved as well as digitally manipulated, then that’s a positive step forward.

What I don’t advise is to digitally manipulate anything other than bass frequencies—something requiring a separation of the woofer from the rest of the speaker.

As I cover in The Audiophile’s Guide, finding the best spot in the room for bass is a bit of a compromise, but it’s better to work together with the problems than wage war upon them.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Getting started

We all want better quality high end audio but where do you start if you’re not getting all you hope for?

If the imaging or tonal balance are off, do you work with the loudspeakers or the electronics? If your speakers aren’t disappearing or the music is presented in your lap rather than on a proper soundstage, do you tweak setup or change cables?

It is difficult to know where in any complex system to start.

My advice has always been simple (though often not very satisfying).

At the beginning.

It may seem obvious to some, but if you don’t have the basics of setup, AC power, and room tweaks in place then every effort at improvement is more a Band-Aid than a fix.

I have helped countless audiophiles get a handle on their systems by pulling their attention away from the tweaks and back to the basics.

Getting the fundamentals right—especially the initial speaker and listening position—is critical to every system.

Getting started on fixing weakness when you haven’t first addressed the basics is like trying to shore up a teetering house with chewing gum and baling wire.

Fundamentals first.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Parallel vs. series

There is a fundamental difference between projects worked in parallel or in series yet both have their merits.

In the former, multiple tasks and projects are tackled at the same time while with the latter, every step follows the next.

Each of us operates at different levels with respect to how we handle projects. Some are most comfortable focusing all their efforts on a series project: dig in, push everything else aside, focus on seeing every step in the process completed to fruition. Others work effectively on multiple tasks and projects by commutating in small spurts their time and energies into many projects. Still others operate in a combo between both series and parallel.

Neither method is better or worse than the other. It’s up to each individual to figure out the most efficient path for their particular skills.

Take PS Audio as an example. At any one time, we have multiple projects being worked upon: loudspeakers, streamers, amplifiers, DACs, recording studio, Octave music, etc. Yet, within each of these parallel endeavors, we find a dedicated group of engineers working tirelessly in series: the beauty of having a team.

Me? If I don’t have ten projects percolating in my head I am bored. My greatest joy is commutating between projects and diving into each with all the zeal and passion I possess until exhausted, then moving on to the next and repeating.

What’s glorious about our differences is recognizing within each of us what works and doesn’t.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Mon, Apr 12 at 5:02 AM
Many edged swords
Perhaps my single most asked question is what piece of stereo equipment makes the most difference.

My quick answer has always been the loudspeakers. Loudspeakers are the most flawed element in the chain and thus the most variable of the bunch.

In one sense, speakers are like clothing. You choose them because they best fit your taste.

But there’s a many-edged sword in this choice. Highly resolving speakers display more flaws while speakers that mask differences are gentler.

Of course, we understand system chains rely upon a synergistic relationship: one bad apple spoils the bunch.  That said, without both great electronics and a highly resolving loudspeaker, there’s no hope for ever reaching the lofty heights so many of us dream of.

As in most things in this life, it’s a balancing act.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Phono cartridges, microphones, and loudspeakers

We all know that microphones sound different, and not just by a little. And we all know phono cartridges sound different, and not just by a little. And don’t get me going about the differences in loudspeakers!

What all three transducers have in common is the nature of their operation: mechanical.

Our stereo systems are all lorded over by one, two, or all three mechanical contrivances that so greatly affect sound quality.

Fact is, between the differences in microphones, phono cartridges, and loudspeakers it’s impossible to ever suggest there’s a “standard” of performance we could ever rely upon.

It’s no wonder every system sounds so unique.